I didn't have to go far to find my "object lesson" for my 16-17 year old Sunday School class. Right outside of the Church building was a tree branch that was already mostly severed from the rest of the tree--sadly dangling, dying and obviously no longer receiving the nourishment it needs to stay alive. I took this branch into my class as part of the suggested lesson on the Atonement of Jesus Christ; how it brings us life and gives meaning to all other gospel doctrines.
Naturally I thought of the scripture in John 15:5: "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." I can't help but be struck and amazed by the symbolism.
"[The Atonement of Christ] is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them. [Boyd K. Packer, “The Mediator,” April Conference, 1977.]
(Parenthetically, I highly recommend the "The Garden: An Allegorical Oratorio". Several years ago a small group of fellow freshman in my BYU ward performed this for our stake. Put simply, it's spiritually powerful to listen to that music and ponder the personal relevance of its symbolism and of the Atonement.)
There can be no more motivating and powerful doctrine than this. I deeply hope that we Latter-day Saints, in wards and stakes all across the world, will continually and constantly focus all we do on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. After all, this is foundational and central--the very gospel of Jesus Christ.
Joseph Smith taught:
"The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. ["Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith".]
Today as I was reading some thoughts from a fellow blogger about the power of the sacrament, my thoughts turned to a devotional address by Justice Thomas B. Griffith, which highlights the transforming connection between the sacrament and the Atonement, as well as some suggestions on how we might place the Atonement at the core of all we do and teach. It's a talk I've thought about many times, especially during sacrament meetings, entitled: "The Root of Christian Doctrine".
He highlights the fact that "contact with the emblems of Christ’s suffering should shock us, humble us, and evoke in us a deep sense of gratitude." He then quotes "the only first-person detailed account of the suffering [the Savior] endured so that we would not need to suffer the full effects of our disobedience":
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; . . .
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— [D&C 19:16, 18]
Justice Griffith goes on to say: "Knowing this ought to be enough to move us to submit our lives to him in obedience and gratitude."
When I step back and contemplate the magnitude of Christ's love for us, I literally "stand all amazed." And indeed it is wonderful to me--in the full meaning of that word.
I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me I tremble to know that for me he was crucified That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died
I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine That he should extend his great love unto such as I Sufficient to own, to redeem and to justify
I think of his hands, pierced and bleeding to pay my debt Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget? No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me enough to die for me Oh, it is wonderful Wonderful to me
"The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it."